We all have, at some point, experienced a bully.  Most times, we can hopefully shake off his or her words to outgrow the damage. Playground, middle school, high school—each phase of life brings change and perhaps relief.


I have had a toxic bully in my life for as long as I can remember.  When I was a child, she would comment that I was overweight, or stupid, or no one liked me. It didn’t matter.  For nearly every moment of joy or pride, she would remind me that someone was better than I.  

Ideally, I would have made a different friend, but I moved a lot as a kid.  I mean a LOT, a lot.  I went to four elementary schools in five years.  I had to make new friends every year or so.  It was isolating and challenging.  Add to the mix that my siblings were in high school, college, or beyond during those years, and I had a lot of alone time I was desperate to fill with companionship.  

Those older siblings presented their own challenge, too.  I admired their grown-up words and sophistication.  While they may not have felt it, I saw confidence and accomplishment and would play-act to fit in.  I, admittedly, put on airs to be apart of their gang.  My friend would tell me I was ridiculous to try.  I sounded dumb and naive.  I was trying too hard.  She made me even MORE desperate for the approval of my brother and sisters.

Why did I stick with this friend through those years of moving and adjustment?  She was consistent.  In the liminal space between moves, at least she was there.  She did not support me in all things, but she was someone to play with and talk to. Walking into a classroom of blank stares and already-established friend groups, virtually every year, was an impossible challenge for a child.  I was exhausted by the changes.  Some years, I made great friends and spent less time with my bully.  Others, she befriended the local mean girls and I lived with a greek chorus of vitriol until the next move. But she was the one companion I could count on to always, at least, be there.

My mom, bless her, would encourage me to make new friends and try things.  “You are smart, funny, and friendly—you can do this!  They will love you!” And if they didn’t, “Stay strong because you are a better person.”  Try as she might, Mom’s voice was never quite as loud as HERS, telling me that everyone was making fun of my favorite outfit, or my new hairstyle.

By middle school, we had stopped moving and I had an established group of friends.  She and I took a break for a couple of years and it was great to spread my wings a bit.  By the transition from middle- to high-school, she was unfortunately back with a group in my school.  Eighth grade took a huge toll on me as she joined them to destroy my self-confidence.  She taunted me daily I was not worthy of friendship.  She would skate back and forth between them and being my ally.  I could not determine the lines or the lies.  I was alone except when she showed up.  I begged and prayed for her to stand by me and was consistently disappointed.

Somehow, in high school, I met new people and healed some relationships.  Never with her.  High school, college, adult friends would cheer me on, yet she always seemed to show up with promise of sisterhood and trust—each time betraying me and weakening me.  I know she is a liar, but she is also the mistress of gaslighting.  “What do you MEAN, you have an issue with me?  I was just kidding! I am here for you! We have been together forever!” It disarmed me, groomed me back to trust.

Over the decades since, I have kept her at arms length.  The struggle to break ties with someone you’ve known your whole life is behemoth.  How do you cut off someone with whom you share a lifetime of memories, shared experiences?  I know she isn’t worthy of my “squad,” yet I cannot extricate her from my life completely. 

These people are always the most detrimental to us, because of that immersive and shared history. They know all our secrets and fears.  They know our shame and slide it into innocuous conversations to remind us they hold power.  Even when others, the RIGHT people, share real love and support, it is so hard to break free.

She showed up again recently, during Covid.  I suppose the isolation we all experienced encouraged reaching out to old friends and re-kindling.  We shared some laughs and memories, and it began again—this time with a vengeance:

I can’t believe you started a blog, how you put yourself out there.  What makes your story interesting enough?

Body positivity is a joke.  You and I both know you need to lose 20 pounds.  It’s an excuse to eat poorly. And NO ONE wants to see you in a bathing suit.

Coaching?  In confidence?  That’s a joke—I can take you down with a single word and you know it.  Who would pay for your advice?

New goal planner?  Nice.  Way to document yet another failure.  You are a phony and you know it.  

No one thinks you are smart or savvy.  We don’t take you seriously—EVER.  

You are probably an embarrassment to your husband and kids.

You are an imposter.  You are a stay-at-home mom with grown kids who don’t need you anymore.  Why are you pretending? 

You are not worthy…

I am 51 years old.  In my soul, I know this cannot all be true.

It is time to shed this dark burden, once and for all.


{stay tuned for part 2}